Chai, garam chai!

In Culture, Drinks, India, Random, Travel on February 21, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I had to write my first post in the cuisine or food &drink section on Chai. After all, I named my blog after this humble drink.

Would you like to have some chai?”

Do you know how to make chai?”

Confronted with questions like this from non-Indians, I did not initially understand what to make of it. I finally understood that for them chai is not just any tea. Chai for them is the tea that you get in dhabas in India with lots of milk and lots of sugar and lots of spices. And for some reason not only is there a common unanimity amongst them that all Indians drink the same kind of tea everywhere in India, but that chai refers to this particular kind of tea.

So for those who don’t already know. Chai=Tea. Period. It is a generic word for tea in Hindi and then if we want something specific, we add adjectives to it like: pheeki chai (tea without sugar), kali chai (tea without milk), adrak chai (tea with ginger) or masala chai (tea with spices).

Of course it is not easy for travellers in India to understand all of this because when they ask for chai, they get the default version and anyone who has had to grapple with foreign languages on their travels will agree that it is simple to learn one generic word in the local language and leave it at that unless you want to get into a long incomprehensible “dialogue” of sign languages. And when you are tired after a day spent walking around and all you want to do is sit back and enjoy a nice hot drink, you learn to leave things simple. Of course you have the option of actually learning the language enough to discuss subtleties of tea with the waiter ( in India, unless you stick to the main touristic spots, it might mean learning more than one language) or you could offer to make your own tea (you might be taken for a lunatic but what the hell, you will have your drink just the way you want it).

However, the type of tea drunk in various parts of India is not only varied but everyone is very particular of the kind of tea they drink. All the women in my family have memories of family gatherings. One of the first things you have to serve is tea. You don’t need a gathering of 15 to have at least 3 varieties of tea to make. One might as well stand with a pen and paper in their hand to take down the “order” because it can be quite a memory game. Tea with milk and sugar, tea with milk and no sugar, tea with sugar but no milk, tea without milk and sugar. There is never a consensus. And if you know the way tea is prepared in India and if you know anything about India, you know that the suggestion of bringing tea in a pot with sugar and milk separately is just nonsense. Milk added to the tea at the very end? WHAT? That is so insipid!

Then there are various kinds of tea. Travellers in India, do not get duped by the Chai you get everywhere. It hides from you the never-ending battle  of supremacy between the Darjeeling or the Assam tea. The Darjeeling tea is sublime without milk and any amount of milk will ruin it. Assam tea on the other hand, can give you the spring in your step when you need to get up and walk 5 km and is best with milk. There are those who are loyal to their brand of tea, then there are those who are easily pleased and will mix a bit of Assam and a bit of Darjeeling to come up with a whole different taste. I will not get into it because I don’t know much about it but I am told that there are various kinds of permutations and combinations that you can make with these two varieties. Mathematicians, a cup of tea maybe?

Of course false impressions are not just restricted to India. Travellers coming to Paris think France has a tea-culture much more than a coffee-culture. I was so taken aback when I heard it, I did not really know what to make of it. In most houses of my French friends and families (on the French side), there is no guarantee that they will have some stock of tea. They might but then again, they might not. They will definitely have coffee though. Check out the supermarkets and you will see the section on tea is quite meagre compared to the coffee section. I can’t even begin to write about the trouble I have to find normal tea here! I get vanilla tea, orange tea, mint tea, honey tea, some weird flower tea but no plain ONLY TEA! Someone pointed out there was Earl Grey. YUCK! I have no idea why people drink Earl Grey. I would much rather drink vanilla tea than have to endure Earl Grey. All this to say that when I see the elusive Darjeeling tea in the supermarket, I buy a decent number of packs because in all probability I will not find another box for the next 6 months!

And then, there is the tradition of having coffee after every meal. If you are asked if there is anything else you would like, once you have finished your dessert in a restaurant here, the reference is to coffee. You could probably ask for tea but it is not as natural. In the younger generation however, there are some who prefer tea and find the coffee too strong for their taste but that population is far from sizeable. Tea culture in France? Are you kidding me?

Anyway, all things put aside, no matter what kind of tea/chai/café/coffee you might prefer, you have to admit that there is absolutely nothing like a hot cup of your favourite drink on any day of the year and when you are travelling and tired in India, there is nothing more refreshing and energy boosting than a Chai break! 🙂

  1. Reblogged this on thebollywoodaddict and commented:
    also not Bollywood related but of utmost importance to over 90% of people who like Bollywood movies. when you invite over people for their first BW film, serve a chai together with maybe a samosa 🙂

  2. […] Chai, garam chai! (1garamchai.wordpress.com) […]

  3. […] Chai, garam chai! (1garamchai.wordpress.com) […]

  4. And in the north east of India you have tea not with sugar, but with salt!!! yes, and I can suggest you try it, its quite a unique flavour and you could even like it!

    • Oooh, I did not know they had tea with salt in the NE! I have had tibetan tea with yak milk and butter and yes, it is awesome. It goes well with their food I think 🙂 Where exactly in the NE do they have tea with salt?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: